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Twins Hall of Fame broadcaster dies of heart failure

4/1/2007 - MLB Minnesota Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hall of Fame broadcaster Herb Carneal, whose
fluid and smooth baritone narrated Minnesota Twins games for the
past 45 seasons, died Sunday morning of congestive heart failure,
the club said. He was 83.

Carneal was part of the club's radio play-by-play crew for all
but the first year of the team's existence in Minnesota.

"To hear that voice was magic," said former first baseman Kent
Hrbek, who listened to Twins games growing up in the suburb of
Bloomington and later played 13 seasons for the team before
retiring in 1994. "When I was a kid, it meant school was almost
out and spring was coming."

A native of Richmond, Va., whose first radio job was right out
of high school, Carneal called Athletics and Phillies games in
Philadelphia and Orioles games in Baltimore before coming to
Minnesota in 1962 -- a year after the Washington Senators moved west
to become the Twins.

Carneal was given the Ford C. Frick Award for major
contributions to baseball broadcasting by the Hall of Fame in 1996.
With his understated style and southern drawl, Carneal's warm voice
became synonymous with broadcasts on WCCO-AM and affiliates on the
network throughout the Upper Midwest.

Opening each game with his signature greeting, "Hi,
everybody," Carneal was a master of minutiae who could easily
recall old facts and statistics well into his 80s.
His on-air partner for the past 20 years, John Gordon spoke with
Carneal each week this spring. Even though his health was failing,
Carneal consistently impressed his colleague by the way he stayed
on top of the news from Minnesota's camp -- and around the majors.

That professionalism and attention to detail was one of his
strengths. Even when his time on the air was limited recently,
Carneal's preparation remained meticulous.

"I used to just be amazed," Gordon said Sunday. "'Come on,
Herb, you're only doing three innings. You don't have to put all of
this together like you're auditioning for a job.' But that was
him."

On recent visits to the Metrodome, Hrbek was struck by how frail
Carneal had become.

"But stick him in front of that microphone, and it was smooth
as glass. You'd think you were 10 years old again, listening to
him," Hrbek said Sunday.

Survived by his daughter, Terri, and grandson, Matthew, Carneal
was preceded in death by his wife Kathy. Funeral arrangements were
pending Sunday.

Carneal stopped traveling in 1998, scaled back further in 2003
and last year was limited to the first three innings of weekend and
weekday afternoon home games. He was scheduled for similar spot
duty on the air this season, but his deteriorating health had put
that duty in doubt.

Needing a walker to get around and his vocal chords clearly
weakened, Carneal sat in the media dining room and smiled before
last year's home opener -- still eager to call the game.

"As long as I can do the job the way it should be done," he
said then.

In a 2003 interview with The Associated Press, Carneal spoke
warmly about the way he was able to connect listeners throughout
the region to the team -- whether they were sitting on their
porches, driving in their cars or cooking dinner in the kitchen.

"Sometimes I say, 'What's an old man like me doing here
announcing a kid's game?'" he said then. "But I'll get a letter
from someone saying how much they look forward to hearing the games
on the air. That's one of the things that makes me keep going."

His favorite call came in 1987, when the Twins won their first
World Series. Sixteen years later, in that interview, he mimicked
his original narration -- without hesitation -- of the final play of
a Game 7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Willie McGee hits a little bouncer down to Gaetti, there's the
throw to Hrbek ... and the Twins are world champions! The Twins are
world champions!"

Carneal dabbled in football, but after announcing some Triple-A
games in Springfield, Mass., and then several seasons of major
league broadcasts he knew his sport was baseball, a youth-instilled
passion.

"Most of the kids that I hung around with, we all liked
baseball," Carneal said. "We just liked to play. It was something
we all seemed to enjoy."

Garrison Keillor, another radio man whose voice made him a
Minnesota icon, once wrote a tune for one of his Prairie Home
Companion shows that was titled "Porch Song." In that whimsy,
folksy tribute to summer's simple pleasures, Keillor included this
stanza:

"Just give me two pillows and a bottle of beer. And the Twins
game on radio next to my ear. Some hark to the sound of the loon or
the teal. But I love the voice of Herb Carneal."